Conservation sound studio

by Kate C
Publish date
5 September 2011
Comments (3)

MV's new conservation sound studio opened for business at the end of August. Conservator Sarah Gubby hosted an open day to herald the event and to show staff this wonderful new facility.

Sarah demonstrating studio Sarah demonstrating the Edison phonograph to MV staff at the sound studio open day.
Source: Museum Victoria

Sarah joined the museum as a paper, image and audio-visual conservator in February 2010. Among other things, she's been working with MV librarians to assess the condition of our rare books collection. In recent months she has been planning the new sound studio, which will assist her to preserve the museum's many recordings, such as interviews, oral histories, music, films and more. Some of these recordings exist on fragile media like wax cylinders, while others are in more stable formats that are now obsolete and haven't been played for years.

Before now, there weren't any dedicated spaces where staff could play back AV material. "There were pockets of room, but acoustically they weren't very good," explained Sarah. The new studio is a soundproofed, dedicated space where AV material can be played back in privacy, which is especially important for culturally sensitive items. Sarah has decked it out with a bank of both old and brand-new equipment that can accommodate almost any medium or format. This means that playback and digitisation can now happen in-house. The studio will also be useful for creating new recordings such as podcasts.

Bank of AV equipment The bank of AV equipment in the conservation sound studio. The older equipment, such as the laserdisc player, was first used in the museum's production studios.
Source: Museum Victoria

Said Sarah, "Certain forms of AV materials are robust enough to travel out of the museum for copying, such as video and movie reels, but there are lots of very fragile and old pieces. Wax cylinders are particularly fragile. If conditions are too dry, they become brittle; if too humid, they become languid and malleable. And the more you play them, the more they wear down."

Sarah will assess whether AV items are sturdy enough to play, how they will be played, and she'll work with curators to determine whether their content should be transferred to a digital format. The studio contains all the cleaning and playing gear needed to do so. "To get good sound, you need to have clean equipment – a clean record and clean needles. So we've bought various types of very soft brushes and cloths to remove dust and a special record-cleaning machine." The studio's new turntable can play twelve different speeds and there is a variety of needles and differently weighted cartridges.

Sarah with the new record-cleaning machine. Sarah with the new record-cleaning machine.
Source: Museum Victoria

The studio itself is a small room with an eclectic mix of furniture. Much of it Sarah salvaged from other parts of the museum, but there is one large cabinet that is definitely not standard office furniture. "I picked it up for a bargain from a Chinese antiques sale," she said. "It's the only thing I could find that would close and fit the Edison horn in it for storage. It's got good mass to it as well – I was adamant that I needed a very solid surface for the turntable. That's important, to help minimise reverb."

Sound studio cabinet The unusual cabinet in the studio is large and heavy enough to accomodate both the enormous old Edison horn and newer turntable.
Source: Museum Victoria

I asked Sarah which material she was most excited about working on. She didn't hesitate to say "the interviews and other sound recordings in the Indigenous Cultures collections. Those, and the birdsongs in our Sciences collections. It will be exciting to unlock their content after all this time, and share it with new audiences." These recordings will be invaluable for research and interpretation, so watch (or rather, listen out for) this space!


Edison phonograph cylinders on Collections Online

Comments (3)

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claude boulenaz 9 September, 2011 15:39
Hi Sarah I Like the Edison phonograph. I have over 20 in my collection. I also have a powerpoint presentation entitled "The talking machine of the acoustic era 1857-1924" let me know if you want some of the info contained in it regards Jean-Claude
Discovery Centre 29 September, 2011 13:25
Hi Claude, Sarah would love to see the information you mention. You are more than welcome to email it to us at
Nick 29 October, 2015 16:21
Hi, my apologies for commenting on such an old post, but I was wondering how many Australian-produced wax cylinders the Museum holds?
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